NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump Jr. testified Wednesday that he never worked on his father’s financial statements, the documents now at the heart of the civil fraud trial that threatens former President Donald Trump’s real estate empire.
The ex-president’s eldest son is an executive vice president of the family’s Trump Organization and has been a trustee of a trust set up to hold its assets when his father was in the White House.
At least one of the annual financial statements bore language saying the trustees “are responsible” for the document. But Donald Trump Jr. said he didn’t recall ever working on any of the financial statements and had “no specific knowledge” of them.
The lawsuit centers on whether the former president and his business misled banks and insurers by inflating his net worth on the financial statements. He and other defendants, including sons Donald Jr. and Eric, deny wrongdoing.
Trump Jr. said he signed off on statements as a trustee, but had left the work to outside accountants and the company’s then-finance chief, Allen Weisselberg.
“As a trustee, I have an obligation to listen those who are expert — who have an expertise of these things,” he said.
“I wasn’t working on the document, but if they tell me that it’s accurate, based on their accounting assessment of all of the materials,” he said, “these people had an incredible intimate knowledge, and I relied on them.”
The first family member to testify, he is due to return to the stand Thursday. Next up will be his brother and fellow Trump Organization Executive Vice President Eric Trump and, on Monday, their father — the family patriarch, company founder, former president and 2024 Republican front-runner.
Daughter Ivanka, a former Trump Organization executive and White House adviser, is scheduled to take the stand Nov. 8. But her lawyers on Wednesday appealed Judge Arthur Engoron ’s decision to require her testimony.
New York Attorney General Letitia James brought the lawsuit, alleging that Donald Trump, his company and top executives, including Eric and Donald Jr., conspired to exaggerate his wealth by billions of dollars on his financial statements. The documents were given to banks, insurers and others to secure loans and make deals.
The former president has called the case a “sham,” a “scam,” and “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.”
James is a Democrat, as is Engoron, who ruled before the trial that Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent. The judge ordered that a court-appointed receiver seize control of some Trump companies, potentially stripping the former president and his family of such marquee properties as Trump Tower, though an appeals court has halted enforcement for now.
“Leave my children alone, Engoron,” Trump wrote in a post on his Truth Social site Wednesday, before court convened.
Engoron will decide the current case; state law doesn’t allow for juries in this type of lawsuit, he has said.
The Trumps are being summoned to the stand by James’ office, but defense lawyers will also have a chance to question them and can call them back as part of the defense case later.
During about 85 minutes on the witness stand Wednesday, Trump Jr. seemed collected, quipping “I should have worn makeup” as news photographers took his photo before questioning began.
He made some more lighthearted asides during questioning about his education and career. When asked whether he belonged to an accountants organization, the non-accountant replied, “Sounds very exciting, but no.”
More seriously, he appeared to be laying groundwork to blame any irregularities in the financial statements on the Trump Organization’s longtime outside accountant, Donald Bender. Trump Jr. testified that the company “relied heavily on” Bender as “a point person for just about anything we did, accounting wise.”
Bender, for his part, testified last month that Trump’s company wasn’t always forthcoming with all the information required for the financial statements.
During a deposition, or sworn pretrial questioning, Eric Trump also said he hadn’t had “any involvement in the statement of financial condition, to the best of my knowledge.”
Eric Trump has attended several days of the trial, but his elder brother hadn’t been to court before Wednesday. Out of court, however, Trump Jr. had repeatedly denounced the case and judge.
“It doesn’t matter what the rules are, it doesn’t matter what the Constitution says, it doesn’t matter what general practices and business would be,” Donald Trump Jr. said Monday on Newsmax. “It doesn’t matter. They have a narrative, they have an end goal, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”
State lawyers have asked other witnesses about the Trump children’s roles leading the Trump Organization and their involvement, over the years, in valuing their father’s properties and preparing his financial statements. Their names have also appeared on various emails and documents entered into evidence.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were also heard from — briefly and virtually — earlier in the trial. Snippets of their depositions were shown during opening statements on Oct. 2.